Kevin has a neat post about the difference between digital reproduction and physical theft. The overdeveloped world can persistently legislate technological and judicial sanctions to enforce the illusion that the conditions of [re]production have not changed — but since letting digital media function as they do best costs less in hardware, software, and just plain bother, there will always be places in the world (hence, always a place online) where copying will remain free.
In this context, I’m tickled to point to Michael Iafrate’s holiday album, Happy Xmas, X is Here, with downloadable mp3s.
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Copyright infringement has always been totally different from theft, but I understand the purpose of copyrights. People should be awarded for originality by not having to compete with others selling their own work.
It’s easy to understand how copyright works for authors compared to some newer kinds of content. You can lend books to people, as long as you don’t don’t make a significant copy and give it to them.
You can’t charge people to watch a movie in your home, at least according to the annoying FBI notice on DVDs. Apparently it’s ok to charge people for reading a book to them, or to show them how to use some software via a digital projector, or to have a cover charge at a party where music is being played.
The rules don’t seem to be related to ethics as much as how hard each industry is willing to fight for whatever it thinks its rights should be.
What’s new about electronic publishing is that we’re seeing media and players that prevent their owners from copying arbitrary data. This is clearly wrong.